Oyster Sanctuary and Criminal Violations

2/13/2012

On February 10 the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) arrested Robert J. Benton, Jr. 44 from Stevensville, on conservation and criminal charges after he was caught illegally harvesting oysters and then tried to avoid the charges by using another waterman’s identity. On February 3, Benton was stopped while he was illegally diving for oysters in the Little Choptank River. When asked for ID, Benton gave NRP Officers a tidal fish license in another waterman’s name, representing himself as that person. 
 
Benton was charged with fraud, fraud to avoid prosecution, fraud to avoid payment greater than $500 and theft. Benton was also charged with taking oysters without a commercial license, failure to pay oyster surcharge and taking oyster for commercial purposes by diving in an area reserved for hand tongs. Benton faces penalties that range from $250 to $25,000 and 15 years in prison.  Benton was jailed in the Dorchester County Detention Center on $10,000 bond.
 
Somerset County – On February 10 at 7 a.m., NRP Officers charged five individuals with harvesting oysters in the Tangier Sound Oyster Sanctuary. NRP Officers were aboard a Maryland State Police helicopter when they noticed three commercial fishing boats illegally dredging for oysters in the sanctuary.
 
Officers charged the following individuals with unlawfully harvesting oysters in an oyster sanctuary:
Steven P. Benton, 43 from Deale Island, and Darin K. Ford, 46 from Princess Anne, aboard the Donna Lee.
Andrew A. Benton, 37 and Ulyses Seawright Jr., 33 both from Wenona, aboard the Gentle Breeze.
David T. Wheatley Sr., 47 from Wenona aboard the Just Faith.
 
NRP Officers seized Wheatley’s oyster dredge from his boat. This was the second time this season that Wheatley was apprehended in the oyster sanctuary. His previous violation occurred on January 20.
 
St. Mary’s County – On February 9 at 3 p.m., NRP charged three individuals with removing oysters from an oyster sanctuary and possessing undersized oysters in the St. Mary’s River near Great Mills. Officers charged Migdael A. Trujillo, 32, Lorenzo A. Regalado, 32 and Jose M. Vaquers, 42 all from Dameron, Md.  A trial date of May 18, 2012 has been set for the District Court of Maryland for St. Mary’s County.